HORROR UNCUT: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease, edited by Joel Lane and Tom Johnstone (Gray Friar Press).
This anthology arose out of the editors' horror at the austerity measures the Con Dem government has imposed. The stories in it represent an imaginative response to these hard times, by acclaimed writers of weird fiction, such as Alison Littlewood, Gary McMahon, Thana Niveau, David Williamson, Anna Taborska, John Llewellyn Probert, and Laura Mauro.
Some stories deal with the immediate effect of the crisis on the housing market and the effect this has had on people in the construction industry. Other stories focus more on the instability of the financial markets, but in very different ways.
Not all of the tales are specific to the recession though. Many of them tackle the austerity measures that have arisen apparently in response to the banking crisis, though I’d argue that ‘neo-liberal’ politicians, particularly the Conservatives, saw the situation as an opportunity to further their political and economic objectives: now that the immediate threat of economic meltdown seems to have faded (for now!), privatisation and cuts to services continue unabated, if anything intensifying as the Tory Right becomes more and more assertive.
The fiction in the book explores these themes through characters we can all relate to. Stephen Bacon’s haunting tale shows the rapid change in the economic and social landscape, with long-established household names like Woolworths vanishing almost overnight, through the eyes of a young man just released from prison, with his own demons to face…
Some tales use a satirical approach to mock the government’s propaganda about their cuts being all about ‘fairness’ to ‘hard working families’. David Turnbull’s story suggests how this kind of language serves to persuade exploited people to buy into Tory ideology. Other stories, like Anna Taborska’s and David Williamson’s, while still using gallows humour, show the cruelty of austerity in a starker and more brutal fashion.
Robert Aickman argued that the ghost story was aesthetically superior to the mere tale of ‘physical horror’, occupying a lofty metaphysical plane, transcending and subverting the materialism of modern life. However, Stephen King’s view, that horror’s major underlying theme is ‘economic unease’, is as true of classic supernatural tales from the golden age of the ghost story as it is of any modern-day urban horror story from the mean streets. Edith Wharton and L.P. Hartley both wrote powerful tales about successful businessmen’s misdeeds coming back to haunt them. Supernatural Tales editor David Longhorn began a review of the new Shadows and Tall Trees anthology by asking, ‘Is modern horror obsessed with property values?’ The answer is yes! And it always has been. Why do people in ghost stories usually move into haunted houses? Because the rent is lower. The exception that proves the rule is the wealthy couple in Edith Wharton’s ‘Afterward’, a rare example perhaps of ghosts improving property values…
The Eighties horror boom coincided with the monetarist era, and much of the dark fiction of the time reflects this. One of the most powerful examples of this is Ramsey Campbell’s stark and claustrophobic psychological horror novel The Face That Must Die (1979, revised in 1983). Recently, authors from the current generation of ‘small press’ horror fiction creators have turned to themes of social deprivation (Gary McMahon’s Concrete Grove trilogy of novels from Solaris Press) and economic uncertainty (Gary Fry’s novella The Acceptable Face of Tyranny from Spectral Press) with startling and memorable results. Horror often thrives on hard times, allowing people to see their real fears play out in the form of fantastic imagery. So perhaps the age of austerity might have the positive side effect for the genre of ushering in a golden age of horror. Who knows?
As for the effect of the fiction in this book on the subjects it explores, again who knows? Few would argue that a small press horror anthology can change things. On the other hand, speculative fiction does scare those in power: look at the reaction of the Conservative Party to Hilary Mantel’s story ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’! And they’re not above using fiction for their own ends, as shown by Chancellor George Osborne’s cynical mimicry of Trainspotting’s ‘Choose Life’ sequence, drawing a memorably expletive-laden response from its author Irvine Welsh…
Finally, there are two events to mark the publication of Horror Uncut:
Twisted Tales of Austerity (Friday 24th October, 12 noon at Manchester Deansgate Waterstones)
Hallowe’en with Horror Uncut (Sunday 26th October, 7pm, the Cowley Club, London Road, Brighton)
Or to buy the book from Gray Friar Books, go here: